Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

criticism, especially, to say nothing of Strauss's first "Life of Jesus," of Baur's profound investigations, are neglected by him in a manner which, as we shall find, is, in his work, deeply avenged. If, moreover, the French critic has an advantage as compared with the German, in the fact that not only did the nature of his occupation place him in immediate contact with the East, but that he also had the opportunity of surveying the theatre of the Evangelical history, and if he knew how to appreciate the latter circumstance at its full value, especially for the solution of his problem, we cannot on the other hand overlook two things, the first that in this behoof Renan not unfrequently makes too much of his advantage, and ascribes to the rural charms of Galilee ah influence upon the spiritual culture of the mind of Jesus which we could scarcely admit even if it were not religious but artistic greatness that was in question; the next, that there is in Strauss and in an incomparably greater degree, an exigency of Evangelical criticism, a philosophical insight into the peculiarity of religious consciousness, a psychological insight into the motives and development of religious conceptions, an unerring judgment as to what was possible and what was impossible in the circles from (which the Evangelical narratives come down to us, 'a subtlety of scientific appreciation saving him from <much that in the case of Renan must offend an enlightened view of history. Lastly, if we enquire as to the mode in which each has dealt with his problem in detail, it cannot be overlooked that Renan's book answers far more fully to the ordinary demand on popularity than that of Strauss. Even in point of extent, the latter is, taking into consideration its extremely close print, three times the size of the former, and exceeds the other by at least as much in the richness of its contents and the thoroughness with which it deals with its subject. A hundred questions, only slightly touched by Renan, or which he decides with a few general assertions, often very striking and intelligent, but still too hasty and precipitate, are thoroughly discussed by Strauss; of the development and present state of Gospel criticism he gives us a sketch which we shall look for in vain in Renan, as well as for the investigations instituted by him into the origin and motive of the Evangelical narratives. Every decision is preceded by a careful balancing of the grounds on which it rests; and if we are not thereby enabled to maintain the historical nature of a feature, he prefers a non liquet or a hypothesis which openly confesses its own uncertainty to narrating as a fact what cannot be proved to be such. It is indeed true that by so doing he abandons an advantage which undoubtedly contributed no little to the unheard of suceess of Renan's work, and in which, in fact, lies its principal charm; that thorough-going individualisation, that freshness of representation which though leading us in detail upon uncertain ground, does still in its general impression, like a successful historical painting, not seldom place in a striking light the scene of Evangelical history and the spirit of the acting personages; he gives up those fine pencil-strokes by which the French historian understood how to freshen up the figure of his hero and to give to the pale forms of antiquity the appearance of warm reality. But he also abandons those random combinations, those uncertain, in place seven perfectly groundless, suppositions with which Renan fills up the gaps in credible tradition; all that romantic decoration, that false pathos, that sensibility of the nineteenth century with which Renan has invested

the founder of Christianity and his surroundings; those rhetorical exaggerations, those musical flowers which cannot be translated into German and be listened to with the smallest toleration; as, for instance, when the composer of the Book of Daniel is called " vrai createur de la philosophie de l'histoire" (p. 37),* or, when Jesus is represented to us as "foulant aux pieds tout ce qui est de l'homme, le sang, 1'amour la patrie" (p. 43), or when Renan asserts that the history of the origin of Christianity is a "delicieuse pastorale" (p. 67), and the like. Strauss' representation may, in comparison with Renan, seem meagre and colourless; where the latter describes things to us as if he had been present on the spot, the former not unfrequently finds himself compelled to make the unwelcome admission that the real course of events is altogether unknown to us: where the one professes to tell us accurately what the persons suffered and did, under what circumstances and impressions they developed themselves, the other is often perfectly satisfied if he can succeed in explaining the historical consequences from the general circumstances of the period and the country; in giving a view approximately correct from the main features of the course of history. But whoever looks for strict historical truth will certainly fare better with the historical ssolidity of the German critic than with the genial superficiality of the French; and if to the latter he will not deny (the praise of a most attractive and graceful form, of clear, sparkling and flowery language, of artistically finished execution, he will not thus allow himself to be seduced into expecting similar ornamentation from a work to the weighty contents of which it would be but little suitable, and to bestow less admiration upon the well-tried master

* The references are to the French edition of Renan.

hand with which Strauss has been able as an author to control an immense amount of material, to make the most complicated analysis transparently clear, to bring innumerable particulars under the dominant point of view, to distribute light and shade, to say the most important things in the most terse and simple language, to find unhesitatingly the most characteristic expression for every thought.

If we would examine more accurately the contents of these two remarkable works, we cannot of course undertake to give a detailed account of the plan and results of writings which have been long in everybody's hands, or to explain all the individual questions, the discussion of which would require a third volume of the size of that of Strauss. We must rather be content to bring out those salient points upon which will especially depend the formation of an opinion upon the character and mutual relation of the two works, and upon the state of historical investigation into the Gospels as indicated by them.

The first question which here meets us is that as to the sources of the Gospel history. It is well known that Baur characterised it as the main defect of Strauss' earlier "Life of Jesus," that it gives a criticism of the Gospel History without a criticism of the Gospels; and this remark has since been not only incessantly repeated, but has been not unfrequently, and even in the presence of Strauss' last work, followed up in a spirit so one-sided that the critic has been absolutely met by the objection that he should ha-ve abandoned his whole undertaking until he had settled satisfactorily the question as to the origin of the Gospels, as to which of the Evangelists wrote first and which last, what sources each made use of, to which decade each writing belongs, etc. This last point is manifestly an exaggeration, and the question such as every successive discussion of the " Life of Jesus " would adjourn indefinitely; for they are questions which will never be cleared up, and an agreement about them never be reached. But even Baur's own suggestion, though well grounded in itself, may be met by answering that, conversely, no criticism of the Gospels is possible without a criticism of the Evangelical history, and that no one, who for the last thirty years has attentively and intelligently followed the course of these investigations, will be able to close his eyes to the fact that the criticism of the Gospel history which Strauss completed in his first "Life of Jesus " was the first thing that levelled the road for more searching investigations as to the tendency, the plan, and the origin of the Gospels. For so long as the extent of the unhistorical element in these writings was uncertain, no certainty Was attainable as to whether they might come from eyewitnesses or not; whether these authors had, in composing them, historical truth in view, or further dogmatic purposes; in what way, and how far they allowed themselves to be influenced by these purposes; how free or how dependent was the position in which they stood towards the Evangelical tradition, etc. The objection of Baur is nevertheless recognised as just by Strauss himself on the very question on which he himself lays the greatest weight, the question, that is, as to the Gospel of John. He says that no one should interfere with a single word in the discussion of these points until he has come to an understanding about John and his relation to the other Evangelists; and that it is Baur who throws the clearest light upon this fundamental question, who has taken up the battle against the Gospel of John, and fought it out in a manner in which critical battles arc rarely fought out; and this, he says,

« ПредишнаНапред »